Legendary climber Lynn Hill once said in her interview for the Planet Mountain website:
Climbing isn’t simply about reaching the summit, but rather everything that revolves around it. The way you reach the summit. This means living each moment enthusiastically, on the path that leads towards the goal.
This comes from a person who climbed her whole life. Not all of us have so much time on our hands to climb every minute of every day; some of us are happy to climb at least once a week, but that doesn’t make the experience any less exciting and above all, somehow strangely fulfilling.
Climbing pushes you to your physical and mental limits. To reach the top, you have to keep the mind and body connection, something we often lose while sitting long hours in our offices. After you’ve nailed the technique and acquired some strength, you start working on your stability, patience, and the combination of prowess and humility you have to embrace to reach the summit.
A lot of people start climbing in indoor climbing gyms. These offer a safe and controlled environment and allow a new climber to understand techniques and acquire needed skills like belaying and rope management more rapidly. In winter, indoor climbing walls also serve as training grounds for those who don’t like ice climbing — although who wouldn’t?
Top Climbing Gyms in Toronto
It’s not easy to find a good climbing gym in Toronto. Many climbing gyms are simply too far or too small or packed too often. The only thing that’s usually great at every climbing gym is the personnel. You will never stumble upon an ill-tempered or even slightly grouchy staff member at a climbing gym; they just happen to have a good vibe. Some of them, however, are a bit better equipped, so you should always check what equipment the particular gym you’ve chosen rents, depending on what you already have and what you need supplied by them.
Phone: (416) 703-3434
The Rock Oasis has moved to a new location and it doesn’t look like an improvement to the old one so far. It’s probably a bit worse. The place is clean, and it has kind of a newish charm, but when you really stop for a moment and think if there’s anything that you’re missing, you’ll find more than you thought. Most of the routes are top roping, and some of them are very nice, but generally the Rock Oasis has two problems. 1) If you’re an average climber, you won’t find many routes for you. They are either too easy or too hard to ascend, so let’s hope that they’ll change this soon. 2) The walls are really short, which means that you don’t really get the training for longer routes, since you go up and down very quickly, giving you just enough time rest before another turn.
On the other hand, many still find it to be their #1 gym (thanks for the comments!) so I have to mention that it is open 365 days a year including holidays, has half price ACC nights and lots of parking space.
You have to pay $25 for a lead test. Apart from other gyms mentioned, a lead test is free if you pass it, but you’ll have to drop a $25 fully refundable deposit, though.
What Rock Oasis really rocks at is bouldering. Although it offers 15,000 square feet of climbing space in total, it would be waste to spend any time outside the boulder zone. It offers varying degrees of overhang and all sizes of climbing holds, just as they say on their website. Also, it’s usually not as crowded as the regular climbing wall, which is great. Routes have been thought through very carefully and they push you just enough to learn a lesson but one doesn’t feel demotivated. You can also practice a roof climbing sections gradually, although this could be improved.
Phone: (416) 406-5900
It seems like almost every good climbing gym in Toronto has moved recently, and the Toronto Climbing Academy is no different. It seems like the new location set new standards, and unlike Rock Oasis, the standards in new Toronto Climbing Academy skyrocketed. Over 60 stations, and more than 4,000 square feet of pure bouldering terrain on top of that make for quite an impressive venue. The thing that’s very dear to many climbers who come bask to the Climbing Academy is a variety of profiles at the artificial wall. Surely it’s fun to climb on flat walls as well, but the 3D wall offers at least partial satisfaction to those who prefer outdoor climbing. The profile is very realistic yet completely safe. You have to pay $15 for a lead test (appointment only). The Climbing Academy offers a wide variety of courses, ranging from the very beginners to advanced climbing techniques. The staff is very professional, yet they are very friendly and patient. If you’re considering climbing as a team-building exercise, the Academy is the ideal place to go. Also, if you have a friend or a child who likes climbing, the Academy offers birthday parties as well.
If you’re a member of Alpine Club of Canada — Toronto section, you can buy a half-price day pass the third Thursday of each month. (Valid only with proof of ACC membership)
Phone: (416) 516-6666
Boulderz offers top out bouldering and a surprisingly well equipped workout area on the second floor. The garage door is usually open during the summer, which makes the area even cooler to climb in. There are some top-rope routes, but they’re only a few climbing holds higher than the highest bouldering problem, but they’re still useful for learning the basics.
The service here is excellent. The whole bouldering area is pretty much one giant enclosed space, so the front counter oversees everything. This basically means that the staff is always nearby to help you, and they are happy to do so. There is no shortage of crash mats here. The ground itself is also extremely impact-absorbant. New bouldering problems and routes are set up regularly, so if you’re planning to visit more often, you don’t need to worry that you’re going to run out of the routes to climb. Prices are very affordable and you also get a free chalk bag with a day pass.
Phone: (416) 538-7670
Joe Rockhead’s is apparently the first indoor rock climbing facility in Canada but it sure doesn’t seem old at all. It has more space than most of the other gyms (currently occupying a space of more than 21,000 square feet), so it doesn’t get as crowded as other places, it also has very good air conditioning. The routes get changed up a little almost every two weeks so there’s always something new to try. Their climbing lessons are some of the best in the country, and very well priced as well. You have to pay $23 for a lead test, and sometimes you have to wait — especially when a bigger group gets in right before you, which can be annoying — but it’s nothing to blame them for.
The great thing about Rockhead’s is that they don’t close on holidays, so you can enjoy climbing all year long. (except December 25th; that’s the only day Rockhead’s closes). Unlike most of the gyms in the city, this gym doesn’t anchor Grigris to the floor, so your belaying is much swifter, and let’s be honest, safer as well. There is a lot of space to park your car as well. Introductory classes are $35, with the option to “supersize” (+$10) for a two-week pass, t-shirt, and magazine subscription.
Phone: (416) 398-7625
The True North Climbing gym is not downtown; however, if you decide to give it a shot and visit Unit 14 in Downsview Park Sports Centre, you won’t be disappointed. The gym offers a respectable 14,500 square feet of climbing space with over 50 top ropes and a variety of lead climbing. The lead climbing test is free. The walls are up to 36 feet in height and are well taken care of. Like most gyms, True North Climbing also offers a half-price night to ACC members (the last Wednesday of each month). The gym is open every day of the year. There is plenty of free parking just outside of the gym.
Bouldering in this gym can be a very enjoyable experience — even for climbers who are just starting, since there are also routes that are not as demanding, allowing you to practice more and fall less. If you have a friend who wants to climb with you and he/she’s never done it before, this is the place where he/she can gain confidence easily.
The thing that makes climbing here quite enjoyable is the natural light that comes from the windows at the top of the building. Even on sunny days, it doesn’t get too hot in here, which might be important for some climbers.
True North Climbing offers a variety of options for team and corporate events, and birthday parties as well. They also have programs for school groups, so if there’s a parent/child day at your children’s school, it might be a good idea to pay this gym a visit. The thing I especially liked about this gym was the staff, who are very caring. For a little bit extra, you can also visit yoga classes in the gym. The gym also includes slacklines, and I can tell you that slacklining is a lot of fun!
Last but not least, the gym is offering a special price on the three-month prepaid summer membership, but you can only buy it in June, so hurry up. The summer memberships come with all the usual Membership Benefits.
Climbing Sites around Toronto
Rattlesnake Point cliffs by Wikimedia Commons
Climbing sites around Toronto can be divided into three major sectors: Souther Niagara Escarpment, Norther Niagara Escarpment, and Bon Echo. According to the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC) website:
Most of the escarpment crags happen to be ideally suited for top roping, being a uniform 60 to 80 feet in height, normally with easy access to both top and bottom of the cliff, and a plentiful supply of sturdy trees at the top to serve as anchors.
The Niagara Escarpment
The Niagara Escarpment is a limestone outcrop that runs continuously from Niagara Falls up to Tobermory at North of the Bruce Peninsula. There is good quality rock and worthwhile climbing at any points throughout its length. The Escarpment is the focus of most of the climbing activity in Southern Ontario. You can find a wide range of different climbers and climbing techniques there. Some crags are heavily bolted and receive heavy traffic from sport climbers, while others have been left more or less in their natural condition.
The Northern Niagara Escarpment
Metcalfe Rock (Map)
Metcalfe Rock is a bit further from Toronto, approximately a two-and-half-hour drive north of Toronto. The cliff faces west and receives sunlight from noon onwards and offers magnificent views across the Mitchell’s Creek valley. Metcalfe features a mixture of traditional and sports climbing, mostly at grade 5.9 and above. The only drawback is that you can’t camp anywhere Metcalfe Rock anymore — it’s strictly prohibited.
Lion’s Head (Map)
Lion’s Head lies a three-and-a-half-hour drive north of Toronto, on the edge of the Bruce Peninsula, and it is probably the most amazing climbing site on the whole Escarpment. The clean white cliffs, the clear blue water of Georgian Bay below, and the cool green cedar forest above make this a wonderful destination on warm summer days, so if your partner climbs (or is supportive enough to belay you), this is one of the most romantic spots in Southern Ontario.
According to the ACC, most climbs at Lion’s Head are grade 5.10 and above. The crag is undercut in most places and access is normally from above, by means of a rappel to a hanging belay at the lip of the overhang. Most (but not all!) of the climbs at Lion’s Head are bolted. The cliff faces north and receives sunlight only in the late afternoon, which means that the site is just cool enough for climbing in summer but extremely cold for climbing during any other time of the year.
Old Baldy (Map)
According to rockclimbing.com, if you wish to climb at Old Baldy you will need to fill out a “Release of Liability” and pay a fee of $25.00. The form can be found on page 218 of “A Sport Climbers Guide to Ontario Limestone.” You can also call in and pay using a credit card. Through 519-376-3076, a permit will be mailed to you by Grey Sauble Conservation Authority. Don’t forget to take a permit with you when you go to Old Baldy. The GSCA officers are patrolling the cliff on regular basis and you will be fined $1,000 if you climb there without a permit.
Old Baldy is ideal for anyone who enjoys 5.10 upwards. Old Baldy is one of the best sport-climbing areas south of the Bruce Peninsula; there is a good selection of bolted routes on sound rock, and there are fine views across the Beaver Valley. The cliff receives plenty of afternoon sunshine, making it climbable even fairly early in the season. Do not use trees as belays or rappel anchors, since most of them are unique cedars and are an irreplaceable part of Canadian environmental heritage. All climbs should be equipped with bolt anchors, and these are not accessible from the top of the cliff, which means that someone in your party has to lead the route.
The Southern Niagara Escarpment
Mount Nemo (Map)
Mount Nemo has quite a few climbing routes; however, they are usually apart from each other, so you have pleasant privacy when climbing. The ACC warns that the base of the southern part of the crag lies on private land, and the landowner has not given permission for climbing. The cliff has a unique character, both in its dark atmosphere and with its varied climbing. It receives little sunshine, and the majority of the base is covered in a dense bush except for a small trail. The sport climbs tend to be on edges, and almost all are well bolted.
Buffalo Crag (Map)
Instructional groups are not permitted at Buffalo Crag, which means that it is a bit less crowded than other sites around, but since it’s not too far from Toronto (45 minutes’ drive), you may stumble upon quite a few climbers. However, people that come here are always very nice and helpful, and the overall atmosphere of the Buffalo Crag just seems right somehow. It’s definitely a place worth visiting!
Rattlesnake Point (Map)
Only 45-minute drive out of Toronto Rattlesnake Point is one of the busiest crags in Southern Ontario. It is also the only crag close to Toronto at which instructional groups are permitted. Many of the routes have become highly polished, which may make them seem more difficult than their guidebook ratings. It is almost impossible to fond a place for a climb here on weekends, sunny or not.
Bon Echo (Map)
Bon Echo is a cliff that is approximately 2 kilometres in length and tops the lake by 100 metres.Not everybody likes this particular spot. You should be really careful with this rock, even on well travelled routes since protection is rarely abundant, according to the ACC. The climbing involves awkward moves on sloping holds that often seem to face the wrong way, and retreat is problematic (unless you are adept at swimming while wearing a full rack), and the exposure can be very intimidating. Despite all this negative promotion, the view and satisfaction you get after ascending one of the routes at Bon Echo is priceless.
Where to Buy the Best Climbing Gear in Toronto
While there are lots of outdoor shops in Toronto that you can visit but most of them only keep only a few pairs of climbing shoes and very small selection of ropes and harnesses. The two well supplied climbing stores are very big and conveniently right across the street from one another. If you’re searching for something and they don’t have it in one of them, you can be sure to find it in the other one. If anyone has any suggestions of other stores with a good selection of climbing gear or some really special equipment, let us know.
Email: Online contact form
Phone: (604) 876-6221
Mountain Equipment Co-Op sells great quality products for fair prices. When talking about fair prices, I mean that they have the best prices in Toronto on most of the climbing gear. They also don’t sell any strange brands without a strong tradition, which is great because you really want to know your gear when climbing. This brings me to another huge advantage of this shop, which is a climbing wall. No, it isn’t a dream: you can try the gear out on a real climbing wall inside the shop, and the staff is more than helpful when giving you advice about which rope, climbing shoes, helmet, or whatever else to choose. The best part is that co-op membership is still only $5.
Email: Online contact form
Phone: (416) 601-1990
Europe Bound is simply a mess — three floors jam packed with outdoor equipment. It is the exact opposite of the organized and clean Mountain Equipment Co-Op that resides right across the street. This is the true outdoor shop, with slightly strange but professional staff that’s able to find the one thing you need in the horrid pile of outdoor equipment. You’ll find a lot of quality stuff that Mountain Equipment Co-Op doesn’t have, including brands such as Icebreaker and Smart Wool. The prices are also very reasonable. On the other hand, the Europe Bound website is really not much use at all, with almost no content.